If ever an inch of snow falls on the ground in Memphis, Tenn., you can guarantee the students at the University of Memphis are anxiously awaiting an alert from the school’s Director of Public Safety and Police Services Bruce Harber letting them know school is canceled for the day.
However, for Harber, that decision isn’t as easy as sending out an email.
Many students were disappointed Monday night following the bad weather on Sunday when Harber made the decision to open the campus late rather than canceling school all together. Twitter complaints flooded the U of M’s page with students commenting on the inconvenience of the late decision.
Senior journalism major Shelby Smith commutes from Arlington, Tenn., and said she was one of the students disappointed in the decision.
“A 30-minute commute is no joke,” Smith said. “I think if Shelby County Schools are out; we should be out, too.”
Sara Harrison, a senior fashion merchandising, home decor and journalism major, said coming to school with ice on the ground is an inconvenience for commuters.
“I commute to school on a daily basis, so when school closes due to weather, I’m thrilled. I would rather not drive when there is ice and snow on the ground,” Harrison said.
Harber said that, contrary to popular belief, determining whether the UofM should close due to inclement weather doesn’t fall solely on him.
“I don’t make the absolute determination,” Harber said. “It’s kind of a misconception a lot of people have. I usually end up making a recommendation to the president or vice president, and then we all make the final decision together.”
Harber explained that this year brought more unexpected weather than he has seen in years past, forcing him to be abreast of the weather as far in advance as possible.
“This has been a really challenging year for us as far as weather is concerned,” he said. “Some years we’ll go a whole year without a single threat of bad weather. I tend to watch the weather, well, my deputy and I do, and like, right now, we know 10 days out what to expect.”
But for Harber, sending out a TigerText to let students know school is cancelled doesn’t mean he’ll be sleeping in.
“I’m up no later than 4:20 a.m., so I can hear what they’re saying on the weather on the morning news,” he said. “I have several layers of who to contact and what to look at before I make a decision.”
Harber said he starts by using the Weather Channel, then he moves on to Weather.com to view their map in motion. After that, he calls the Memphis Police Department’s senior dispatcher and the Shelby County Sherriff’s dispatcher to check on the roads for commuter students. Lastly, he checks in with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
“We just gather as much information as we can from those sources, and then I call campus to see what’s going on there,” Harber said.
Harber said most importantly, students, faculty and staff must make their own decisions when it comes to safety.
“We always tell people they have to make their own personal decisions, too,” Harber said. “We don’t know where everyone lives. We have to go by what campus looks like, and if everything’s fine here it’s hard for us to know. We tell people to do what you think is best for your situation.”